Endskel 18, 1014
It could have been a wonderful evening. No — it should have been a wonderful evening. It should have started with Kay meeting Dilys in the courtyard, complimenting her for her good looks. He should have then teased her through dinner about all the fun she was having at university, without him. She should have blushed and insisted that it wasn’t as much fun as it would have been with him. Then they should have gone into the drawing room to watch the sunset. Then Kay would have poured some wine and stoked the fire. After a drink, they could have sat and stared into the flames for hours, and if Kay was very lucky, they could have put the sofa to good use.
That was how it should have gone. But Kay had flubbed up the first play, and now the rest of the game was looking very, very bad.
The trouble was — it was stupid, but at least Kay could identify it — that he had not been picturing Dilys in her black gown. Black was not her color: it made her look older, wearier, paler and sicker. Sadder but no wiser. Blue was a much better color on her. Or green. Or the teal-and-gold gown she’d been favoring lately.
Or maybe Kay should stop lying to himself. It wasn’t the gown. Or it wasn’t just the gown. After all, she could have been mourning a great-aunt she’d met only once. It was the sad face of Dilys above the gown that had caused him to trip over his compliments, and cluck over her through dinner like one of the more annoying types of mothers, trying to make sure she ate enough. There hadn’t been any teasing. There hadn’t been any fun.
He’d been stupid to think that since her letters were full of her paintings and her friends and the mad things that George Ferreira and Mistress Cherry Andavri managed to pull on a daily basis, she was fine. That she’d somehow managed to bounce back from losing her father and her favorite brother in less than a year’s time. Maybe she was able to hide behind a pen and paper. But she couldn’t hide in front of him.
Oh, well, Kay thought. They had a month before she had to go back to Camford. That was time enough to … well … be there for her.
He strode over to the wine shrine and started to pull glasses out. The clinking caused Dilys to jump. “What’s your pleasure, love?”
“Huh?” She spun. Her eyes caught his — and fell to the floor. She started to twist her hands together. “Sorry — I don’t know where my head’s been …”
“You don’t have to apologize.” Kay pulled himself a cup. “But what would you like?”
She shot him a weary smile. “You know what I like.”
“Ah. The blush wine, then.” He uncorked that bottle and poured it. He never quite understood wine that pink, and it was a bit sweet to his taste. But it was Dilys’s favorite, and what kind of husband-to-be would he be if he didn’t keep a bottle on hand for her? After all, nobody was saying he had to drink it.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“You’re welcome.” He grabbed both glasses. “Well? Shall we sit?”
“Oh–of course.” Dilys followed him and sat herself meekly at his side. Kay handed her the wine; she smiled her thanks and sipped without a word.
At least he’d thought to stoke the fire before pouring the wine. Now their silence could be passed off as a contemplative one, the two of them staring into the flickering flames and thinking deep thoughts. Except Kay couldn’t fool himself with that. Dilys … Dilys might have been thinking any number of things. Her eyes reflected the blue of the hottest part of the fire with an intensity unusual even for her.
“… Can I ask you something, Dilys?” Kay asked.
Dilys looked up, blinking. A year ago she might have blushed and looked at her lap, smiling. She might have murmured, “You just did, silly.” Not so today. “Of — of course.”
No evasion. No hint of discomfort. He hadn’t been expecting either, but it was nice to have something go right this evening. “How are you? I mean really. Not … how you’re pretending to be in front of your family.”
Dilys blinked. “What–what makes you think I’m pretending?”
“Well, let’s see.” Kay started to count off the family members on his fingers. “Your entire family is facing the same losses you’ve faced this past year. Plus some. Dindrane, for instance, is still married to Sir Mordred with all that entails — which, to be honest, is enough to ruin anybody’s year. Garnet is reeling from Lamorak, and between you and me, I think her impending arrival is only making things worse in her head. Aglovale … well, don’t get me wrong, he’s my friend, but there are things he’s good at, and being comforting is not one of them. So he’s doing absolutely everything he can to ‘make things easier’ on your mother and Garnet without actually having to give them emotional support. Delyth is in exactly your boat, so you won’t be wanting to pour seawater into hers. And your mother … your mother is trying to hold everybody else together, because that’s what mothers do, bless them. So, let me ask you … to whom has Dilys been spilling her troubles? And if the answer is ‘no one,’ then answer me, what are fiances for if not to be the mopper-upper of spilled troubles?”
Dilys did not answer at first. Her eyes darted to the flames and searched for hidden wisdom in their depths. Then, slowly, she shifted to face him. “I–I don’t think Delyth and I are going through something that’s … exactly the same …”
Kay opened his mouth. He shut his mouth. “Oh?”
“She …” Dilys shifted, her black gown rustling and wrinkling over her like an inky sea in the depths of a storm. “She’s really going through a lot right now …”
Kay begged to differ, but he kept his mouth shut. He was probably just biased. But he wasn’t stupid, was he, to think that Dilys and Lamorak had been closer than Delyth and Lamorak? He remembered last year and the endless rehearsals for the masque. Delyth and Lamorak had the most scenes together of the siblings; they’d laughed and joked and teased together. But Dilys was Lamorak’s special pet. When Dilys stuttered and stumbled through her lines, it was Lamorak who was just offstage smiling encouragement at her. When Delyth messed up a line, Lamorak would laugh at her — until he messed up a line and Delyth was laughing at him. And throughout her childhood, whenever Dilys needed something, all she had to do was turn her big eyes at Lamorak and he’d be running to make her happy again. He’d never seen anything like that between Delyth and Lamorak.
“Maybe that’s true …” Kay started.
There was a “but” coming, but Dilys didn’t let him get that far. “No — no, she is. She …” Dilys pulled her skirt and played with her sleeves. “She just … doesn’t want people knowing about it.”
Kay’s eyes narrowed. “She doesn’t.”
“And — and I think she has a point. At least for now,” Dilys stumbled, all in a rush. “Everything’s too — too soon. Too much. All at once. And–and if other people found out … well, they’d make too much of a deal over it. And they’d want to fix everything. Immediately. But it can’t be fixed, and Delyth isn’t ready to — to make decisions yet. And I can …” There was a twitch in her shoulders that suggested a shudder suppressed. “I can see why.”
Kay brought his goblet to his lips and slowly sipped. He let the wine roll over his tongue and made a show of appreciating it. He ought to know how it was done by now. How many times had he seen his father pull this very trick to gain himself a few precious seconds to think?
Because what Kay was thinking was — Something is wrong with Delyth. And she and Dilys have convinced themselves that — what? Everybody knowing will just make it worse? That if they ignore it, it’ll go away? That there’s nothing anybody can do about it anyway?
There were any number of not-nice things that one could use those kind of thoughts to cover up, sweep under the rug, and hope and pray that when you picked up the rug again, the dust pile would have miraculously disappeared …
“Dilys … is Delyth in trouble?”
“What?” Dilys gasped. “No! Kay, how could you even ask that? Delyth isn’t–isn’t that kind of girl! And that’s just the least of the reasons why–” She stopped short, like an arrow running into a target. Her lips snapped shut and she turned resolutely to the fire.
“Um … well, from what you’re saying, it sounds like she’s in some kind of difficulty,” Kay replied. “If that’s not being in trouble …”
Dilys turned to him with a furrowed brow. “What? Oh — oh!” Dilys blushed. “You–you didn’t mean that kind of trouble …”
“That kind–” Oh. That kind of trouble. The kind of trouble that led to a screaming, squalling, diaper-filling newborn in due time. “No–no, that’s not what I meant.” He cocked his head to the side. “Is–is she in–”
There was no disbelieving Dilys when she was that emphatic. Or, for that matter, exasperated. “All right, then. What kind of trouble is she in?”
“She … she wouldn’t want me to tell you …”
“Why not? Does she not appreciate my sensitivity, tact, and above all, talent for getting oneself out of sticky situations?”
That didn’t even get him a smile. “You can’t fix this for her.”
“Oh, come now, I wouldn’t be alive today if I couldn’t –”
“No — no, Kay.” Dilys put a hand on his sleeve. He could feel the warmth radiating through the too-many layers separating his skin from hers. “You can’t.”
“… Can Prince Kay? Or what about King Arthur?”
Dilys shook her head.
She nodded. “It’s — it’s not the kind of trouble you can get out of by … pulling rank …”
That was trouble indeed. “Who can help, then?”
“Oh, come now, somebody has to be–”
“Delyth has already been to Lady Morgan. She can’t help.”
Kay’s jaw dropped. Without another word, he turned and put his goblet on the table. There were some things you simply had to face sober … or the nearest one could get on short notice.
He swallowed and took a turn staring into the fire. He could see why Dilys did it so often. “All right — you have my full attention.”
Dilys swished her wine round and round her goblet. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Kay reached over and squeezed her hand. “But … are you sure you shouldn’t tell your mother?” If Kay was in something so deep even Morgan couldn’t dig him out, he’d sure as hell want his mother to know.
“No,” Dilys replied. “Because if she knows, she’ll tell Aglovale. And Aglovale …” Dilys bit her lip. “He … he doesn’t have any patience.”
Patience? Kay’s eyes narrowed. Was this — whatever it was — something that would go away on its own, if left alone? But if it was, then why would Delyth or Dilys be agonizing over it? That made no sense.
“Why would Aglovale need to have patience?” Kay asked.
“Because Delyth …” Dilys sighed and watched the wine swish from one side of the goblet to the other. “She’s got enough gone wrong already. She–whatever happens next ought to be her decision. But if she tells Aglovale, then Aglovale will want to — to find a solution now, and it won’t be what Delyth wants. It’ll be whatever he can convince her and Mother into. And he can be …”
“Stubborn?” Kay asked. Dilys looked up, eyes wide. “He’s my friend, you know, but I’m hardly blind. Aglovale … would not win any prizes for sensitivity when it comes to dealing with potentially thorny problems. In fact — speaking of thorns, that’s how Aglovale approaches all problems, aye? He thinks they’re thorns stuck somewhere sensitive — and how do you deal with a stuck thorn? You rip it out and fix the damage later.”
“Exactly! Exactly!” Dilys almost threw her arms wide — then she stared at the goblet still in her hand. Without a word, Kay plucked it out and set it on the table beside him. Dilys flashed him a quick smile.
“You — you see,” she went on, “Aglovale’s not going to see it from Delyth’s point of view. He’s just going to see a problem for — for the family. And he’ll try to solve it for the problem. He’s — he’s not going to be concerned about what will make Delyth happy.”
“Why wouldn’t he be worried about that?” Kay asked. “I mean — that’s a bit harsh to say, even about Aglovale.”
“He can’t make her happy,” Dilys shrugged. “He can’t–can’t fix what’s really wrong. So he’ll just try to — to make a patch of a solution, make sure everybody can save face, and … and what that does to Delyth, well, that’s not as important as what will happen to the rest of the family …”
“That is really harsh, even for Aglovale.”
Dilys tilted her head to one side. Something about the light, the pose, made her skin look like polished porcelain, glowing from within. The freckles were specks of glaze, adding interest and contrast to what would otherwise be white unbroken but for shadows. “Do … do you think Aglovale would spend time on a lost cause?”
“A lost cause? Whatever is — is troubling with your sister, she can’t possibly be a lost cause!”
“I don’t think she is. Or that her being happy someday is,” Dilys replied. “But Aglovale will. And my mother — well, I don’t know what she’ll think. I think she’ll be afraid that it will be a lost cause, and that will … well, that will make Delyth start to believe that her being happy is a lost cause. Even more than she already does.” Dilys swallowed. “If–if it’s just her and me, I can try to help her have hope. But if it’s me against everybody else …”
Kay nodded slowly.
“Because — because even I’m not doing it right,” Dilys laughed. It didn’t sound much like laughter, but it made a good attempt. “I don’t want anybody to make decisions for her and try to force her into them — but … here I am doing it.” She tried to giggle. She failed.
“Kay …” Dilys twisted on the sofa so she faced him. She took a deep breath. “If–if, when we leave Camford, Delyth can’t — hasn’t found a husband, would you let her live with us?”
Kay’s jaw dropped. That–that was what Dilys wanted? That was what all this had been building towards?
“Dilys …” Kay smiled and held his arms out. “Come here.”
Dilys blinked, but she came without hesitation.
Kay held her close, feeling the soft velvet of her dress crushing against his side and chest. He took a deep breath.
He wouldn’t ask why she thought Delyth might not have found a husband by the time she left Camford. She wouldn’t tell him if he did ask. And he wouldn’t try to allay her fears. That would be patronizing. Instead, he would —
“It’s just, you see,” Dilys stumbled — his arms around her shoulder seemed to have calmed her, but only momentarily — “I think–I think Delyth will be better off if she has … options. If she doesn’t feel like–like she has to do what Aglovale says will be best, or else be stuck with … nothing. Alone. If–if you say you’ll let her live with us, then maybe she can — take some more time, figure things out. Even if she’s just taking that time now and figuring out what she wants to do — she’ll feel safe, she’ll feel secure, I hope–”
Dilys stopped speaking. She blinked. She twisted up and looked at him. “What?”
“Well, love, I’m not going to lie to you and pretend that when I pictured the first days of our married life, that your sister would play … well … any part in them,” Kay shrugged. “I know you’re hurt, but alas, that’s the truth. And when we get married, if Delyth decides to come with us, we shall have to set some very firm rules about knocking on doors and time allowed to elapse before entering, etc.”
“Kay!” Dilys giggled, her cheeks turning an adorable shade of pink.
“What? We’ll be newlyweds! Being up to no good behind closed door is allowed, nay, expected for newly-wedded couples!”
“Kay!” Dilys stared at her lap and struggled to hold the giggles back. “If–if we’re going to be up to that much–mischief, then I say we invest in some door locks and be sure to use them faithfully.”
Kay blinked. “Well–maybe you have a point, love. We shall have to make sure our first home has strong door locks, and that we are very careful about using them.” He took a deep breath. “But that being said … if it makes you happy, Dilys, it makes me happy.”
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“Don’t thank me. I’m just making myself happy.”
Dilys didn’t answer. She just leaned her head on his shoulder. And she smiled up at him.
She didn’t look so sad now, even in the black gown that swallowed her up and left nothing but a head and hands to show to the world. She didn’t look sick or weary when she was smiling. And — unless Kay was very much mistaken — she seemed lighter, freer. Easier and more comfortable. Like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Amazing. She’d lost her father and her brother so close together — and it was her sister and her mysterious problems that were keeping her up at night. And now that Delyth was sorted, or as sorted as she would get …
Well, it wouldn’t solve everything. Maybe it would only make Dilys feel the pang of her losses that much more keenly. But, starting now, they had the better part of a month before Dilys had to go back to Camford. Kay swore to make every moment of that month count.
And maybe, when it was over, she’d be able to smile again for real.